Scot Peterson wants America to know that he didn’t act in a cowardly manner by waiting outside Douglas High School as seventeen students got mowed down. More accurately, the former Broward Sheriff deputy’s attorney wants the media to know that, calling the criticism of his actions (or lack thereof) “unfounded” and Sheriff Scott Israel’s testimony a “gross oversimplification.”
NEW: Scot Peterson, former Broward County school resource deputy assigned to Stoneman Douglas High School, hires attorneys to respond to "unfounded criticism of his actions" in response to deadly shooting. https://t.co/6Ul14PHg4u pic.twitter.com/oTEFFmTzYY
— ABC News (@ABC) February 26, 2018
The most significant claims in the statement prepared by Joseph DiRuzzo are that Peterson thought the shots were coming from outside the school, not inside, and that he initiated the sequence of events that located the shooter. One victim was on the ground outside, leading both Peterson and the first Coral Springs PD responder to lock in on that interpretation. DiRuzzo claims that Peterson initiated the lockdown at that time after having been called out for “firecrackers” initially, and that it was Peterson who had school administrators check the video surveillance system to find Nikolas Cruz. At that point, the SWAT team from Coral Springs had arrived, and Peterson gave them his keys.
How does that square up with this eyewitness account from WSVN, though?
Note the sequence of events described by senior Brandon Huff. He told reporters that Peterson didn’t move even while other teachers were running into the building, including Aaron Feis, who lost his life shielding his students. Perhaps Sheriff Israel was throwing Peterson under the bus, but this student wouldn’t have any ulterior motive, except to set the record straight on what he saw as the “despicable” actions of Peterson.
Notably, the Washington Post points out, DiRuzzo never quite identifies when Peterson realized the shots were coming from inside the building:
Rather than rushing inside, which is the generally accepted police response when facing a potential active shooter, Peterson’s lawyer said he acted properly in following his training for possible outdoors gunfire by seeking shelter and trying to assess what was happening at the Parkland, Fla., high school. The lawyer did not say when the officer realized the gunfire was coming from inside the building.
Peterson’s account on Monday adds to the uncertainty that has swirled around the law enforcement response to the deadly rampage at Stoneman Douglas, which killed 17 people, most of them teenagers. Israel, the sheriff, announced Feb. 22 that he had suspended Peterson after viewing surveillance video showing that the officer took up a position outside the school building and never went inside. After being suspended, Peterson filed his retirement paperwork and left the agency he joined in 1985.
The sheriff said that Peterson should have “went in and addressed the killer. Killed the killer.”
If Huff’s eyewitness testimony is accurate, multiple civilians figured out where the shots were originating and went into the danger unarmed while Peterson maintained his position outside. An investigation should settle that matter, but at the very least, Huff’s testimony lines up with what Sheriff Israel claims he saw in the video. Israel is a very flawed witness at this point, but no one has yet shown any reason to impeach Huff.
Basically, this statement is a lawyerly attempt to deflect, which is what any attorney would attempt to do. DiRuzzo needs a little work on his writing, however, especially in avoiding passive voice:
“Let there be no mistake, Mr. Peterson wishes that he could have prevented the untimely passing of the seventeen victims on that day, and his heart goes out to the families of the victims in their time of need.”
Untimely passing? They were murdered, some of them while Peterson stayed outside for whatever reason. They didn’t drop dead in an accidental gas leak or fall victim to a strange coincidence of heart attacks. Peterson was hired to prevent or stop exactly the sequence of events that took place at Douglas High School, and failed in his job. That failure certainly goes beyond Peterson, but it involves him to some extent, because those kids and teachers didn’t just fall over dead on their own while Peterson held his position where the shooter wasn’t.
DiRuzzo’s memo reminds us that we still don’t know all of the details in the Parkland shooting’s sequence of events. It’s best to wait for all the facts to come out, and in this case wait for independent investigations rather than rely on statements from Broward County officials. However, Peterson’s claims of having acted appropriately should be met with considerable skepticism, both because of Huff’s already public account and the outcome of what took place while Peterson waited.